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Smells Like School Spirit

When it comes to designing quality collegiate purses, it looks like these sisters-in-law have bagged a winner.
December 1, 2003
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/65642

What: High-end handbags emblazoned with college logos
Who: Linda McMahan Gunning and Sue Craft McMahan of Bagalogos!
Where: Austin, Texas
When: September 2002

Linda McMahan Gunning was inundated with compliments on the University of Texas handbag she used to carry to university events. Though the bag, which she picked up at a local store, was roughly made and not properly licensed with the college, it drew a lot of attention from other women and fans.

As an attorney, McMahan Gunning soon realized that if she could obtain the licensing rights for collegiate logos and design her own line of high-end handbags emblazoned with school emblems, there would be quite a demand for her products. She decided to cold-call the University of Texas to pitch her unique concept.

"They said, 'If you can do all this, we think it's a great idea. We'll take a chance with you,'" recalls McMahan Gunning, 55. With those encouraging words in mind, she enlisted the help of her sister-in-law and avid fashion lover, Sue Craft McMahan, 36, to join her in the logo handbag venture.

Interestingly enough, obtaining licensing agreements wasn't the biggest challenge during start-up; finding a manufacturer and researching what women really want in a handbag proved to be the major hurdles. They canvassed not only college-age women, but also alumni and families of students.

When the pair designed four different types of bags- large tote bag, a smaller baguette bag, a crescent-shaped handbag and a bolder game-day bag- marked with the University of Texas emblem, the favorable responses they received were overwhelming.

Today, with sales into the mid-six figures, Bagalogos! bags can be found at www.bagalogos.com and at high-end boutiques and college bookstores. Schools on the company's roster include the University of Alabama, Oklahoma State University campuses, Texas A&M University campuses and Texas Tech University; the partners plan to add seven more schools in 2004. They've also set their sights on other big-name schools with high-profile and loyal alumni. Talk about higher learning.

On a Shoestring

What: Printer cartridge retailer
Who: Paul Sowinski of Top-Notch Computer Supplies Inc.
Where: Sterling Heights, Michigan
When: Started in 1998
How much: $5,000

When Paul Sowinski got hooked on attending computer shows in high school, his dream of becoming an entrepreneur arrived in the form of toner cartridges. Self-help books like Brian Tracy's Maximum Achievement: Strategies and Skills That Will Unlock Your Hidden Powers to Succeed (Fireside) and a loan from his parents sent the 18-year-old on his way.

Working out of his home, Sowinski bought two computers, phone lines and inventory. His inkjet and laser toner cartridge company, Top-Notch Computer Supplies, was profitable from the start-and the teen entrepreneur was suddenly flush with cash. "My friends always had money because their parents gave it to them," says Sowinski, who made $40,000 his first year in business, doubling it the next year. "When I started making money, I was like 'Ohmigod.'"

Initially indulging personally and professionally on frivolous items, Sowinski, now 23, has since reformed his spending habits. "There was a lot of waste that I overlooked," he says. "I feel like I matured a lot." Eliminating three cell phones and changing his business phone carrier cut expenses, as did breaking down the daily cost of each potential purchase. "Now I look at everything as a potential profit or not," says Sowinski, who estimates 2003 sales of $500,000.

With Sowinski's vision of a million-dollar company on track, his new goal of $100 million is plausible given his passion for business and lean operations. "I wanted to learn by error," he says. "I've made all the errors you can make. When [I] cut costs, that's money in my pocket. Every dollar counts now."

-April Y. Pennington